There’s a blind man with 82 kids living in San Diego County. This clearly begs some explanation.
His name is Freddie Downs. He spent about 25 years as a K-12 special needs teacher in San Diego. He has a passion for helping other people learn.
“I love seeing that first burst of light coming on in someone’s head when they get it and they understand what you’re talking about,” said Downs. “And when I see I’ve touched someone’s life, I’m excited.”
In 2012, Downs' career and life took a turn he never saw coming.
Glaucoma, coupled with diabetes, caused him to go blind, and forced him to retire.
“You lose a lot of your independence,” he explained.
Despite losing his sight, Downs never lost his vision to help other people learn.
"Of course you have your pity parties," he told NBC 7. "It’s just important not to stay there."
He now volunteers as a teacher at The Braille Institute San Diego, teaching health twice a week to grownups.
The most valuable lessons Freddie Downs ever taught, however, were not in the classroom. Kyle Harvey, 17, can attest to that.
“He showed me that there is a right way to do things,” the teenager said.
Harvey never met his father.
He’s been in the foster care system since the age of three. He admits he got into a lot of trouble when he was younger, being expelled from school for the first time in fifth grade. It did not help that he and his brother were separated and put into different foster homes.
Harvey gets choked up even talking about it.
“You know, you can’t live without your family,” he told NBC 7, fighting back tears.
That’s where Freddie Downs comes in.
In an act that changed the course of Harvey's young life, Downs offered to foster both brothers and raise them together.
“I have no way to repay him for that,” said Harvey. “I love him to death and there isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for him.”
While Harvey’s story is touching, it is far from being unique. That’s because Freddie Downs has fostered 82 kids over the past two decades, sometimes taking in as many as six at a time.
“I could tell you stories that could curl your feet about the way that some children used to live their lives,” said Downs.
Foster kids age out of the system when they turn 18, but Downs said he still stays in touch with a lot of his kids.
“I have had quite a few that have gone on, got married, gone to school and raise families on their own,” he said, beaming.
And you can now count Harvey on that list of success stories. He just graduated from high school and is planning on going to college.
“I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am today without his help,” said Harvey. “People ask me who’s my motivation in life and I say Mr. Downs.”
Today, Downs is in the process of adopting three of his former foster kids and officially become their father.
Although, even without a piece of paper to make it official, he already sounds like a lot of other dads.
“I hope that I did a great job, or that the kids see that I did the best I could with what I knew how to do,” he reflected.
And so, that’s the story about the blind man with 82 kids.